The pattern of settlement in Hawaii has changed considerably during the last century. In the old days the populated areas formed a fringe along the shoreline of the islands and extended inland only in the larger valleys. Chief gaps in the settled zone came where mountains descended abruptly into the sea, for example, the Napali coast of Kauai. The interior plateaus, plains, and slopes had few residents until the land began to be used for grazing introduced livestock, and the planting of new crops. Forest land has been cleared for sugar mainly since 1875, and the irrigation of dry uplands was chiefly accomplished after 1890. Upland plains and slopes were first planted to pineapples about 1903.
The people of Hawaii live not only along the coasts and in the valleys, but plantation villages also occupy sites on the interior plains and uplands, where also are found small farms and large stock ranches. The settlement of lands for plantation agriculture was an accomplishment of the haole (Caucasian) managers and capitalists. Only high mountains, precipitous slopes, and very rocky or dry ground are uninhabited. In the old days there were many villages but no large cities. Canoes could land on almost any beach, and commerce did not demand large vessels. Few people lived in Honolulu until its harbor began to be used by traders and whalers. Many village sites, important before the advent of Europeans, proved unsuited to modern conditions, and now are either reduced to hamlets or abandoned.
Honolulu, on Oahu, now has about half the population of the Territory, and is built near a small but adequate harbor, which is protected by a coral reef. It is the largest city, not only in the Hawaiian Islands but also in all the Pacific islands between the mainland of North America and Japan, Manila and Australia. Honolulu has substantial office buildings, large hotels, and modern houses, and except for the tropical verdure there is little difference in appearance between the city and a seaport of similar size in the States. The industrial district is close to the harbor, the resort hotels and stores for tourists are at Waikiki Beach, and the homes of the people are spread out over a large area as most residents live in separate houses rather than apartments. Scores of neighborhood business districts are scattered over the city, each being called by a familiar local name. Kaimuki, Moiliili, Waikiki, Aala, Kalihi, Palama, and Manoa Valley are examples. The city has climbed up the slopes of the Koolau Mountains, and some of the choice residential neighborhoods are on the heights at altitudes of 1000 feet or more. Honolulu is the major seaport and airport in the north Pacific, and a naval base of great strategic importance. Leading industries are those associated with shipping, the wholesale and retail distribution of imports and exports, catering to tourists and the military, canning of pineapples, manufacture of fertilizer, managing headquarters for the plantations, and various service occupations.
Hilo, the second city of the islands, is also a seaport located on a harbor partly protected by a lava flow on the island of Hawaii. It is the chief port of that island and has a population of over 20,000. Other cities of more than 5000 people are Waipahu and Wahiawa in interior Oahu, and Lahaina and Wailuku on Maui. Large communities are also located at Pearl Harbor, Schofield Barracks, and other military establishments on Oahu.